Introduction

Shigeru Kawai pianos are a part of a very rare breed of piano, consistently making many ‘Top-10’ lists annually for the finest musical instruments available. The project was started by the Kawai Corporation’s second president, Shigeru Kawai, and the goal was ambitious: create the premier piano of Japan, capable of competing with the very best from Europe.

Started in the early 1970’s, the company first started stock-piling wood before any designs were even on the drawing board. A generation later, only a few thousand Shigeru Kawai’s have been produced, and each one is individually marked and recorded at the small shop where they are created. In fact, there are little more than a dozen highly-trained artisans who build Shigeru Kawai’s, and each builder is responsible for his own pianos, signing and taking personal ownership of the final product – a profound expression of pride.

The pianos are known for their selection of the finest materials, their impeccable attention to detail in their meticulous handcrafted assembly, and a range of tone and dynamics that very few pianos can compete with. Founder Koichi Kawai would surely be proud.

Shigeru Kawai – 10 Interesting Facts About Shigeru Kawai Pianos Review Video Transcription

The Shigeru Kawai grand piano series is the very top musical product that Kawai produces. Over the years, the Shigeru Kawai series has essentially functioned as a testbed for various experimental piano building techniques and new technology, with a gradual trickle-down effect wherein features pioneered in the Shigeru pianos have ended up throughout the entire Kawai musical instrument lineup.

The series consists of:

In this article, we’ll be looking at 10 interesting facts you might not know about these superb instruments.

Fact #1: The Rim

The rim of any grand piano has several roles to play, including tonal projection, the stability of construction, the stability of tuning, and overall durability/longevity of the piano as a whole. How the rim is produced in conjunction with the woods selected for the construction are vitally crucial to the final tonal and structural results the piano is capable of producing.

When building a rim, typically multiple layers of various woods are glued together, and before the glue settles, the rim is placed inside a large rim press and bent into shape. With the Shigeru rims, rather than following this typical process, Kawai instead uses steam to individually create the necessary curves in the laminations to ensure that the wood fibers remain as natural as possible.

Fact #2: The Wood/Soundboard

Kawai uses solid spruce for the soundboards for all of their pianos, but with the SK-7 and SK-EX, they use select Ezo spruce from a small remaining stockpile. The process used to dry this spruce truly defies all economic sense; rather than using kilns or any other accelerating drying methods whatsoever, this spruce is dried in open air dry racks for well in excess of 5 years before the wood is worked with at all. This ensures maximum stability in a variety of climate conditions and greatly reduces the possibility of the wood splitting. Very few companies engage in a process this time-consuming.

Fact #3: The Bridges

The bridges in the Shigeru Kawai pianos, according to several Kawai insiders, are essentially reproductions of the Hamburg Steinway bridge design. This isn’t something you’ll find in a press release, but unofficially, this happens to be the case as the Hamburg Steinway bridge design is viewed by many as the absolutely optimal way to design a bridge.

These bridges are vertically laminated and utilize a variety of different woods. Where Shigeru again stands among only very few manufacturers, is that they feature a different wood for the treble bridge cap from the mid and bass ranges. Shigeru’s use boxwood in the treble bridge due to the immense amount of string tension in the treble bridge. Maple is used in the mid and and bass range.

Fact #4: Double Duplex Scaling

 

Another interesting thing about Shigeru’s is the use of double duplex scaling, which means not only a duplex length on the back of the bridge but also a duplex length on the front of the piano as well, just in front of the capo. This results in an incredibly colourful treble range. Often, even with super expensive pianos, the upper treble can sound a bit ‘noisy’, meaning uncontrolled or out of tune harmonics, and a hue of white noise surrounding the fundamental pitch. Utilizing the double duplex and managing the avoid this pitfall truly speaks to the precision these pianos are built with.

Fact #5: Keystick Length

It’s fairly common knowledge that the Shigeru’s feature Kawai’s famous Millenium III Carbon Fiber action equipped with Shiko Seion hammers, an action originally designed specifically for the Shigeru’s which has now trickled down all throughout Kawai’s lineup.

What’s not so common knowledge is what Kawai has done with the keystick lengths; every Shigeru Kawai, from the SK-2 to the SK-7, has the exact same keystick length as the 9 foot SK-EX concert grand. What advantage does this give? Well for concert level pianists, having a 6 foot piano in the home that can approximate quite closely the feel of a 9 foot concert grand is of course hugely advantageous. For everyone else, the extended keystick reduces the difference in repetition speed and the sense of weight between the front of the key and the back of the key. This means, these actions are much easier to play on any part of the key.

Fact #6: How the Action is Prepared

Again, it’s fairly common knowledge that Kawai actions across the entire line come directly out of the factory very well prepped and regulated. It remains mostly an unknown however how Kawai achieves this.

Every piano action utilizes a pounding machine that piano actions are placed inside of prior to installation, where the keys are played over and over again to break them in. An average traditional piano action typically has a lifespan of about 1 million, to 1.3 million strikes before the action disintegrates. With a Shigeru action, each key is played several hundred thousand times in the pounding machine prior to installation to ensure that it is thoroughly worked in and regulated dozens of times throughout this process. Due to the carbon fiber action, the lifespan vastly exceeded the 1-1.3 million limit of a traditional action, which allows Kawai to work the action into this extreme degree.

Fact #7: The Finishing Touches

There are several walls at the Shigeru Kawai factory adorned by plaques. Each plaque has a name, location and year. The name’s on these plaques are every single owner of a new Shigeru Kawai piano, which the Shigeru Kawai Master Piano Artisans take great pride in. This connection between the builder and end user is a true rarity in our industrial, globalized world, and serves as a motivation for the pursuit of perfection with every Shigeru.

Fact #8: Master Piano Artisan Connection

Not only will the person who put the piano together know the name of the buyer, but the buyer will know the name of the craftsman as well. Each Shigeru Kawai piano comes with a certificate with a signature and short biography on the specific Master Piano Artisan (MPA) who was responsible for overseeing that particular instruments craftsmanship, from beginning to end.

Fact #9: Batch Made

Due to the precise and time-consuming nature of these instruments, only a couple of hundred Shigeru Kawai pianos are built each year. Rather than constructing all of the different models at once, Shigeru’s are built in single batches, as an attempt to maintain focus and uniformity. Rather than scattering attention, the entire team is focused on the exact same intention throughout the entire process.

Fact #10: Visit from Piano Artisan

One of the Master Piano Artisans involved in the building of the Shigeru’s will actually visit each individual owners’ home within one year of purchasing a Shigeru to service the instrument for an entire day. There is no other manufacturer who offers this service standard with every purchase, and further serves as a powerful symbol of unending devotion each MPA has towards their craft. This varies from market to market based on the availability of the MPA’s, but it’s certainly something all of our Shigeru customers here at Merriam Music are fortunate to experience.

Conclusions

All in all, Shigeru Kawai pianos are some of the best value instruments available on the market with each one totaling more than the sum of its parts, and nevermind dollar for dollar, these are definitely some of the finest pianos you can sit down and play – truly a work of uncompromising craftsmanship. Please feel free to make an appointment at one of our piano showrooms if you’d like to try one!

SHIGERU KAWAI PIANOS

Shigeru Kawai pianos are a part of a very rare breed of piano, consistently making many ‘Top-10’ lists annually for the finest instruments available. The project was started by the Kawai Corporation’s second president, Shigeru Kawai, and the goal was ambitious: create Japan’s first and finest concert instrument, capable of competing with the very best from Europe.

Started in the early 1970’s, the company first started stock-piling wood before any designs were even on the drawing board. To date, only a few thousand Shigeru Kawai’s have been produced, and each one is individually marked and recorded at the small shop where they are created. In fact, there are little more than a dozen highly-trained artisans who build Shigeru Kawai’s, and each builder is responsible for his own pianos, signing and taking personal ownership of the final product.

The pianos are known for their technical and mechanical perfection, their impeccable attention to detail in every way, and a range of tone and dynamics that very few pianos can compete with.

 

Shigeru Kawai SK7

why they built it

The Concert-Hall Challenge

Despite Japan’s dominance of the mid-range piano market since the 1970’s, the concert stage has for most of the 20th century belonged to one maker: Steinway. Although the story of Steinway’s success is multi-faceted and stretches over decades, generally it can be boiled down to two reasons. Firstly, the pianos.  Steinway makes very good pianos, and if you go back 100 years to the early 1900’s, the best pianos. Henry Steinway’s company pushed the limits of piano design with hundreds of improvements through the late 1800’s, and the D-278 became the world’s first true concert instrument capable of filling a North American-style hall of 1000+seats. Steinway’s rims, actions, and scale designs combined to create, without a doubt, the most powerful and best projecting piano the world had ever seen, and it quickly became the preferred instrument in large public spaces.

Secondly, Steinway made some equally brilliant business decisions and established, in many ways, the framework for modern luxury retailing. They aggressively pursued product placements, worked to control and maintain price controls across markets, established high levels of management over their franchisees, and above all, built a roster of musicians willing to publicly endorse the piano in exchange for low-cost, consistent instruments to perform on around the world.

Despite many attempts from many builders, this formula of controlling the artists, the venus, and the price (through limited access and tight dealer controls) had been largely impenetrable. Shigeru Kawai knew this, and set his sights on creating a piano that could compete at every level with any concert instrument, including of course, New York Steinway.

Shigeru Kawai Videos

shigeru KAWAI GRAND PIANO MODELS

SHIGERU KAWAI SK2-L

Unique features in the Shigeru Kawai SK2 include the latest version of the Millennium III action, hardwood rim with alternating layers of maple and matoa, cold pressed hammers, and naturally aged soundboard spruce.

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SHIGERU KAWAI SK3-L

With a lighting fast carbon fiber action, exotic “Ezo” sitka spruce for the soundboard, and cold pressed hammers, these pianos are a real joy for any advanced pianist to play .

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SHIGERU KAWAI SK5-L

The SK-5 offers a powerful presence that will grace a range of professional venues from studios to intimate recital spaces. There are currently 12 master piano artisans who build the Shigeru Kawai.

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SHIGERU KAWAI SK6-L

Many musicians and experts consider the SK-6 to be among the top five 7’0″ pianos in the world. Currently this model can be found on many concert stages, churches, and recording studios.

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SHIGERU KAWAI SK7-L

The SK-7 is a work of art that communicates with true passion, precision and poetry at the hands of the artist. The Shigeru Concert Series line of grands represents Kawai’s ultimate effort to produce a world-class concert quality piano.

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SHIGERU KAWAI EX

With only 12 Shigeru Kawai EX concert grand pianos produced each year (5 total sold into the Toronto area) these are some of the most rare and exotic concert instruments in the world. The SK-EX is a work of art that communicates with true passion, precision and poetry at the hands of the artist.

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MANUFACTURERGRAND PIANO MODELLENGTHWIDTHHEIGHTWEIGHTMSRP (USD)
5'11 (180 cm)61" (152 cm)40" (102 cm)714 lbs (324 kg)$83,060$67,733
6'2 (188 cm)61" (152 cm)40" (102 cm)736 lbs (334 kg)$96,660$78,667
6'7 (200 cm)61" (153 cm)40" (102 cm)774 lbs (351 kg)$111,327.00$90,400
7'0 (214 cm)61" (154 cm)40" (102 cm)842 lbs (382 kg)$125,727$101,867
7'6 (229 cm)62" (157 cm)40" (102 cm)882 lbs (400 kg)$139,327$112,800
9'0 (278 cm)63" (158 cm)40" (102 cm)1,111 lbs (504 kg)$285,060$249,333

shigeru Kawai Pianos features & Specifications

Shigeru Kawai Design ConceptThe Concept

Shigeru knew that this new breed of piano would have to be technically more advanced in every area to win the approval of both musicians and technicians. This would include the types of wood chosen, how it was dried, and processed. It would include the action design and durability. It would also include soundboard shape and scale design. And above all else, it would need to be constructed at such a high level of excellence that its quality would never be questioned.

The wood began to be stockpiled in the early 1970’s, including a selection of mahogany, matoa, hard-rock maple, boxwood, hornbeam, ezo spruce, and sitka spruce. This original stockpile was left to dry for more than 25 years for the ultimate in stability.

The rim would be built of the hardest, most dense material possible, and even in the smaller models, rival the thickness and strength of a typical 9′ concert grand. Using Matoa and Hard-Rock Maple, Shigeru Kawai’s are made of the densest rim in the world. Though not quite as thick and strong as Mason & Hamlin’s CC model, the Shigeru rim is capable of an equal level of tonal reflection and structural stability, and exceeds the density and rigidity of Steinway’s Model D.

The soundboard would be made of Ezo Spruce, a native Japanese spruce tree that grows on just a few islands in the country’s north. This wood is a very slow-growth tree with exceptional tonal properties. The grain is very consistent and amongst the narrowest growth rings in the world. It is exceedingly even in its response, and when combined with an ultra-dense rim, was capable of generating well above-average sustaining times.

The action also needed to be of an entirely new design. The Millennium III action now found in many of Kawai’s other grand pianos was actually first developed for the Shigeru Kawai project. Its objectives were clear: maximum control and consistency, extremely quick repetition speed, and well-suited to any style of playing. The introduction of carbon-composite actions allowed for a new standard of precision, and over 100 hours of regulating PER PIANO by a Master Piano Artisan achieved a tolerance that could then be maintained for years (without the variable of wood).

The bridge would be created in the same style as Hamburg Steinway and Fazioli: triple-capped with vertically laminated lengths consisting of mahoganies, maples, and beeches. This would allow maximum transference from the string to the soundboard, but also allow for lateral sympathetic transference along the length of the bridge as well. The result is a surprisingly active and colourful palette in the lower dynamic range.

Shigeru Kawai Perfection

The Visit

Shigeru Kawai was so obsessed with the idea of delivering perfection to every single customer that he instituted several non-negotiable tenants into the fabric of the new company.

  • Restrict production so that the original stockpile can be preserved and replenished with no compromises.
  • Allow only certified Master Piano Artisans to build the pianos, regardless of the effect on production numbers
  • Require that each piano be the personal responsibility of an individual, whose real name would be forever attached with that piano
  • Require that upon delivery of every new Shigeru Kawai piano, a Master Piano Artisan visit the home or institution within the first few months to spend an entire day with the piano, ensuring that every single element of the instrument was perfectly suited for the owners setting and preference, and that every measurable standard set forth by Shigeru was religiously adhered to.

This last point has resulted in something of a mythology around purchasing Shigeru Kawai’s. Most owners will have their own unique story about their visit with the MPA from Japan, whether it be a humorous ‘lost-in-translation’ moment (they really do come from Japan, so their English is not necessarily very good), to the pure pleasure of sitting down at the piano after being in the hands of a true master.

OTHER MERRIAM PIANO BRANDS

MERRIAM Pianos Locations

Merriam Pianos - Oakville

(416) 639-2186

Merriam Pianos - Vaughan

(416) 639-2187
 

Merriam Pianos - Robert Lowrey Showroom

416-423-0434
 
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